Welcome to the Valley
The classrooms in log cabins, mentor-teachers leading a nature walk or a football game, boys catching insects, climbing trees, reciting poems in a stone amphitheater, sitting around a fire listening to ghostly Halloween tales, or competing for their clans in Capture the Flag: welcome to The Heights Lower School; welcome to the Valley!
The Lower School consists of grades three through five and offers an educational setting in which boys can thrive. The Valley, the teachers, and the curriculum create an environment conducive and challenging to boys.
The location of the Lower School is a broad grassy and wooded area of lower elevation; it is endearingly titled “The Valley.” The Valley includes a forested area with a variety of trees, a stone amphitheater, log cabins for classrooms, and an open grassed area for play. The setting facilitates the integrated and interactive educational experience of the Lower School. For example, the boys explore the woods and learn of the various trees and birds on the campus. Students gather at the amphitheatre for classes, stories, and poetry competitions as well as larger assemblies. The cabins have a sense of strength and adventure that can attract boys to the educational experience. The large setting has many niches and locations for quiet and calm observation—necessary for a whole education and stirring the latent capacities of contemplation and intuition.
The boys are placed in small homeroom classes (no more than twenty students, and an average of fifteen per class) and have one principal homeroom teacher. A homeroom teacher and small class sizes have many advantages in the education of young boys who are increasingly looking for mentoring, encouragement, and example. Heights teachers provide models for cultured manhood: mentors, who play sports, are friends, work diligently, and are genuinely interested in the world and ideas. Such examples are especially important for prepubescent boys who are more open to ideals and engaged learning of the world. Homeroom teachers teach most of the subjects to their small classes; this enables the teacher to gain a better understanding of each boy and the boy to be better understood. Homeroom teachers also further a more informed and cooperative relationship between parents and teachers.
The Routine of our Boys
Notable aspects of the Valley experience include the number of recesses and amount of time allocated for physical exercise, and the freedom the boys are given. There are three recesses per day: two short recesses—one in the morning and another in the afternoon—and a longer recess after lunch. Furthermore, each class has a formal gym class four times a week. The recesses and physical education are necessary as breaks to complement the intensive academic studies. But, they are also necessary for development of the virtues associated with team sports, such as courage, discipline, working for a team goal, etc. They also provide healthy occasions for less formal exploration and activities that include fort building or other imaginative play.
Educating for Freedom
Freedom is a vital component of the play and overall tone of the education in the Lower School. This freedom may include snow-ball throwing (with some rules), climbing trees, fort building with sticks, tackle football, or freer exploration of the woods. Freedom is necessary not only to develop authentic moral virtues, but is also necessary for authentic intellectual habits. Good behavior should not merely consist of exterior manners that please adults, but connect with the interior, the heart, of the person who truly desires to do good things. Similarly, learning is not a game of grades and “getting ahead,” but should be truly touched with genuine interest, wonder, and a search for truth and wisdom (though the boys are not necessarily aware of such at the Lower School level). The freedom the boys have is emphasized along with their responsibility—always with an eye to the men these boys will become.